On April 7, the New America Foundation hosted a day of discussion about the state of Mexico today, and where the country is headed in the future. The event began with remarks from the Honorable Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to the United States. Mr. Sarukhan’s remarks were generally optimistic, and he chose to highlight some of the corners that Mexico has turned in recent history. In particular, the country’s greater democratization, deregulation of the economy, and focus on security issues have been a great success story in Mexico’s history.
The first panel of the day about reform in the economy and politics addressed the economic issues of Mexico more thoroughly. Tyler Cowen pointed to many legislative initiatives, including the decisive public health response to the swine flu epidemic, that have passed recently as markers for the greater cohesion and efficacy of the Mexican government. Luis Rubio pointed out that while reforms were happening quickly in Mexico, not all new laws should be agreed upon without further consideration. He reflected that Mexicans have a tendency to just go down a checklist when it came to reforms, and that people should be looking at more long-term institutional changes in Mexican government, in particular political and leadership positions. Andrew Selee was more optimistic on Mexico’s economic future, but did remark that while a few select Mexican companies were doing well internationally, businesses in Mexico have become chronic underperformers. In his view, expanding trade between the three countries in North America could be beneficial for all sides.
In the second panel, the emphasis switched from opening up Mexico to how to control the worst aspects of its society. John Bailey, who has been following Mexico for over forty years, said that the levels of crime and violence in the nation had reached the worst he’s even seen. His main concern was that the crime, violence, and corruption associated with these trafficking organizations would become a public security threat. Alan Bersin, the recently appointed border czar for the Obama administration, felt that the time was right for the United States to engage in bilateral talks about the new paradigm in North American relations. Tim Golden expressed caution that, unfortunately, no one fully understands the underworld and violence that has been an issue in Mexico for so long. To solve the trafficking problem in Mexico will take much more than just stopping the flow of drugs, and will involve a greater involvement of the Mexican government in reshaping their judicial systems to have more integrity.
Elaborating on the problems with security and trafficking organizations in Mexico, the last panel discussed the border town of Ciudad Juarez. Alberto Islas commented that the organizations are very decentralized, and that people in the community easily slip in and out of work when they need to. Because of this fluidity, many people have worked at some point or another for these organizations and they have become very ingrained in communities.Alfredo Corchado agreed that many of the people in towns like Juarez have considered just yielding to the organizations. Mr. Corchado said that many people have been fighting a long time for democracy and peace, and that fatigue leads many to “give up the fight”. Maureen Meyer focused more on the role that many soldiers in the Mexican Army have played allowing for the continued violence and presence of trafficking organizations in these towns. For Ms. Meyer, a higher standard of accountability for soldiers and officers needs to be implemented by the Mexican government in order to stop soldiers from committing these crimes.